Airrace’s stop-start career seems to have been characterised by support slots, whether with Queen back in 1984, or since they reformed a decade ago, a periodic set of shows consisting mainly of high profile support slots to the likes of Tesla, FM, Night Ranger and Thunder support slots, festival appearances or, at the best, co-headlines.
This Good Friday headline show was therefore one to look forward to and Laurie Mansworth – the one original member from the British melodic rockers – even confirmed it was their first London headline show from the stage, though there was some debate afterwards exactly which shows there might have been in the eighties.
After a support slot from contemporaries with a similar chequered past – albeit a very different musical standpoint in NWOBHM stalwarts Tytan, Airrace opened to a modest but very enthusiastic Bank Holiday crowd with the first track from 1984’s Shaft of Light classic in ‘I Don’t Care’. Initial sound gremlins very soon settled down but initially the lights man seemed to have forgotten to project them towards the stage, which fortunately was properly rectified as the night went on.
Early on, they alternated between the debut and songs from last year’s first effort with this new line-up ‘Untold Stories’ (this writer’s choice for GRTR! as No 1 album of 2018). ‘Eyes Like Ice’ is already established as a firm live favourite and ‘New Skin’ had a lively groove as they bookended ‘Caught In The Game’.
Singer Adam Payne confidently owned the stage. His equally slightly built predecessor Keith Murrell had an unmistakable style but the old material lost nothing and sounded entirely authentic in his hands as they played a series of debut favourites in the punchy ‘Not Really Me’, ‘First One Over The Line’ with its massive chorus and what sounded like a slightly different keyboard intro and ‘Promise To Call’.
Just as impressive was the way he could effortlessly switch vocal style, given that ‘Untold Stories’ broke out of the mainstream AOR confines to draw on a wider range of musical directions, as was shown in a trio of new numbers with the heavier riffing of ‘Men From The Boys’, the bright and breezy ‘Summer Rain’ was an almost poppy seventies feel, and the pomp of ‘Running Out Of Time’.
Not a second of their set was wasted, as one song after another was delivered faithful to their studio counterparts with no embellishments I seem to remember Laurie having gone on some longer guitar breaks during previous shows but this time his playing, while superbly controlled and melodic, seemed to be kept as concise as possible.
He is always a jovial presence on stage and could not resist a few quips at watching members of The Treatment, there to support their drumming band member, son Dhani. His backing vocals together with those of bassist Rocky Newton also filled out the vocal sound.
‘Open Your Eyes’, back in the set after a lengthy absence, was rapturously received in certain quarters, but this was no nostalgia fest, epitomised by the atmosphere during a pair of new songs, the riff heavy ‘Different But The Same’ and ‘Come With Us’, Linda Kelsey- Foster’s honky tonk style piano leading into a raucous singalong barroom rocker.
The best though was saved to last – given a new treatment with a lengthy intro from Linda – giving way to Adam singing the first verse solo before the band kicked in, ‘Brief Encounter’ is not only their finest moment but stands comparison with the very best AOR songs from a British band.
Far from being an anti climax, a sole encore in ‘Didn’t Wanna Lose You’ was nearly as good, likewise employing similar quiet to loud dynamics as it built to another hook-filled chorus and took an hour and ten minute set right up to an early curfew.
While it might have been nice to hear a track or two from 2011’s comeback album ‘Back To The Start’, in every other regard this was a triumphant and enjoyable performance. Lean and stripped of any padding, it was hard to find fault with the set, and I hope these headline shows become a regular rather than one-off event.
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 30 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 8 September 2020.
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